Day 1 of sentencing in Boston bombing trial paints picture of defiant Tsarnaev

On Tuesday, the prosecution gave an opening statement in the sentencing phase of the Boston Marathon bombing trial. Earlier this month, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty of carrying out the bombings.

Jane Collins/Reuters
US District Judge George O'Toole speaks during the sentencing phase of the murder trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in this April, 21 courtroom sketch.

Almost two weeks after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing with his brother, Tamerlan, the court reconvened Tuesday to begin the sentencing phase of the trial.

Jurors will be deciding whether Mr. Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty or be sent to prison for life without the possibility of release. A death sentence would require a unanimous decision by the jury.

Unlike in the first phase of the trial, where the defense essentially admitted Mr. Tsarnaev’s guilt in its opening statement, his lawyers did not deliver an opening statement Tuesday, electing instead to give that statement before they call their first witnesses.

The prosecution did give an opening statement, however, following the delay that came after the conviction earlier this month. Assistant US Attorney Nadine Pellegrini, who set up three large poster boards before beginning her speech, talked about how the prosecution’s arguments would both outline the impact of the bombings on the hundreds of victims and describe how those killed in the attacks had lived their lives prior to the bombings.

“You’ve heard about how they died; now you’ll know how they lived,” Ms. Pellegrini said.

Behind her, two of the poster boards were unveiled to show family pictures of the four individuals killed: Lingzi Lu, Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, and Sean Collier.

“All these people were loved, and loved in return. This is how we should know them,” Pellegrini continued. “But now these people are memories, and memorials.”

She added, “Their families had every right to expect that they would live out their lives and realize the potential of their young lives, but Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took that away in the most brutal way possible.”

Pellegrini repeatedly emphasized the severity of the attacks and why they merit the death penalty.

“Every death was intended; there was no accident about any of these,” she said. “He simply is callous and indifferent to human life.... [He] is unrepentant, uncaring, and unmoved by what he did.”

She drove this point home with images taken in July 2013, showing Tsarnaev in a holding cell before one of his early court hearings. The footage – unseen by the jury before Tuesday – came from a surveillance camera inside the holding cell. Tsarnaev had been sitting passively in the cell, then walked up to the camera and held up his middle finger.

“This is who Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is, unmoved, unrepentant at what he’s done,” said Pellegrini. “This is why death is the only appropriate and just sentence.”

She finished her statement with a quote from poet Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”

“His destiny was made by him, and his destiny was to be America’s worst nightmare,” Pellegrini said.

After its opening statement, the prosecution called witnesses the rest of the day, including survivors of the bombings and family members of Ms. Campbell.

When it is the defense’s turn to call witnesses in this phase of the trial, the lawyers are expected to call neighbors, old school friends, and old family friends. Such witnesses could discuss Tsarnaev's childhood and his relationship with his brother and help present Tsarnaev's human side to the jury.

The penalty phase of the trial is expected to last about four weeks.

While the trial was in recess this month, Boston observed the anniversary of the bombings, on April 15. And on Monday, the 119th running of the Boston Marathon took place.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.